workplace privacy

Workplace privacy

Big Brother is Your New Boss

When George Orwell wrote 1984, he was taking a shot at the Soviet Union, its communist ideology and client states. While there’s mudslinging in the media about the “Thought Police,” the reality is that in our own homes we have the freedom to act as we please and express any view we want. The same cannot be said for the workplace. Realistically, there must be some give and take when it comes to expressing ourselves. Most accept that if you work for an organization, you follow their rules. Today this gets tricky as corporations increasingly deploy technology to monitor employees’ behavior. There are no easy answers when it comes to personal security when we willingly agree to the terms – in this case, compensation. The Interfor team will cover the basics of this emerging trend in corporate America that will fundamentally impact how we work and workplace privacy.

“If you didn’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about”

We’re still at the beginning stages of how data will be used to track behavior. Some of the smartest people in Silicon Valley have been tackling ways to monetize all the data collected on us. As of this writing it leads to them trying to sell us more stuff we don’t need online. The case many employers make when using technologies such as voice monitoring and sensors to track movements is that it can improve an employee’s performance. One can imagine an employee’s conversation with a boss about wearing a sensor, with the boss’s retort: “if you’re doing your job well you have nothing to worry about.” We’ve all had conversations like this, but in the hands of mid-level managers, they offer no firm assurance about workers’ rights.

This has become pervasive in many corporate environments. An MSNBC article states “a 2018 survey by Gartner found that 22% of organizations worldwide in various industries are using employee-movement data, 17% are monitoring work-computer-usage data, and 16% are using Microsoft Outlook- or calendar-usage data.” This goes for both white collar and blue collar professions and has the potential to impact every business across every industry.

Big Brother 2.0

It’s not just about sensors and monitoring how you spend your time; technology is now tracking if you attend that meeting. For example, co-working space giant WeWork recently acquired Euclid, a startup whose goal is to optimize performance by tracking employees in their work environment. Many of these companies claim that they’re just tracking data points to identify trends, but what stops an employer from tracking individual employees? Problematic is the proliferation of Alexa and Amazon’s Business Blueprints, which allows companies to use Alexa to fit their needs. With a virtual assistant that can understand voice tonality on all the time, you might be at risk for termination for something as innocuous as gossiping at the water cooler.

Can an employee really opt-out?

As with many new technologies, government and the law have not caught up. Similar to the use of other technologies (ex., social media), employers face social pressure about falling in line to monitor behavior. While laws protect workers’ rights, employees might find themselves on the outside if they refuse to allow themselves to be monitored.

If you’re seriously concerned about your data, consider self-employment as more tools become available to track data and move from consumer to corporate use (ex., Alexa and voice recognition). With jobs taken by AI and automation, many workers will have no option but to fall in line. To ease the concerns of the dystopian futurists, people are human and mid-level managers will be the human element who understand that people are not perfect. We’re not being replaced by worker drones yet, and humanity still has a role in the corporate space.

We focus a lot on the safety aspects of personal security, but the reality is that as more data is collected around our behavior, we’ll face new social challenges. The workplace and the future of what privacy will look like is something that will increasingly become more important – and Interfor is here to help you understand those trends.